When a panel of three esteemed IABC Gold Quill winners and judges recently shared their insights with SF IABC members, their pointers echoed the soundest principles of communications strategy: Start with clear business-based objectives, tie tactics to those objectives, measure strategically and tell a good story.

“The Gold Quills I won were ‘tent pole moments’ for my company,” said Jenifer Bice, senior director, Event Solutions, at Walmart. “Start your planning with what you want to achieve and what success looks like. Clearly tie that to objectives. Don’t try to just back into it when writing your Gold Quill submission.”

During “Secrets to Gold Quill Success,” panelists agreed: When planning your communications strategy — and, subsequently, planning your Gold Quill entry — clear-cut objectives that marry up to your metrics are paramount.

Measurement matters

“Measurement trips up entries,” advised Jeff Rader, communications consultant with Resources Global Professionals and past president of SF IABC. “Show what people are going to do differently. Don’t use impressions as a metric. It only shows that people saw the communication, not whether their behavior or attitude changed as a result.”

Data play a big role in Gold Quill submissions, just like they do in communications strategies. To be effective, they have to tie to the business. Peter Vogt, global head of Employee Engagement and interim lead for Diversity, Equity and Inclusions at Splunk, advocates partnering with the finance and strategy organizations at your company. “Ask them, ‘how would you measure impact? What would you say is successful about…?’ Start by understanding the strategic impact.”

Bice and Rader agreed. “Listen to what business leaders are saying and ask questions at the front end,” Bice suggested. “As a communicator, be a businessperson first,” added Rader.

Tips for writing a successful submission

Does the communication project you’re submitting have to be big, sexy, well resourced? Absolutely not, especially if you keep these tips in mind:

  • Weave your objectives into your narrative.
  • Don’t make the judges work hard to figure out the story.
  • Lay out the background and obstacles.
  • Be clear about which work samples support which elements of your entry, and think carefully about the work samples you include.

Sometimes, the fewer resources you have, the more creative you have to be in planning and executing your communication project. If that was your situation, show it in your submission.

Another tip: Consider first entering your project in a regional Silver Quill program, like the Pacific Plains Region Silver Quill Awards. That experience can strengthen your entry when you submit it for a Gold Quill.

Feedback is a gift

“While it’s great to win a Gold Quill, one of the biggest benefits of submitting is the feedback you get,” said Rader. Judges are extremely thoughtful in their assessment of each entry, and each entry is evaluated on its own merit, not against other entries. If judges encourage you to make changes and resubmit next year, you should consider that.

Dani Townsend is vice president, Communications, for the San Francisco chapter of IABC and leads Employee Communications for CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer.